Alex Colville

Raven 1990,

30 x 19 in



Private Collection, Toronto

Animals played a key role in the art of Nova Scotia painter Alex Colville, often standing in as a counter to human figures. The animal is Other, present, seemingly ubiquitous in Colville’s imagery, but essentially unknowable. As his daughter, Ann Kitz, told curator Andrew Hunter, “He wasn’t sentimental about animals, but he thought that they were essentially good, and he didn’t think that people were inherently good.”
“Colville’s bond with animals was genuine and consistently evident. He seemed to think both about and with them, to work toward understanding the world in tandem with them.”
Colville’s interest in animals can be tied to the fact that he was a thinker as much as a maker, and his sustained, rigorous approach to creating images is a remarkable legacy. His abiding interest in the nature of being led him to examine the everyday facts of existence. His subject matter is, almost exclusively, the daily life that surrounded him, whether that was in Sackville, Wolfville, or while he was on a sojourn in Santa Cruz or Berlin. For Colville, thinking deeply happens wherever you are, and happens best with familiar things.
In Colville’s depictions, simple binaries create complex images that resist easy summation. Humans and animals, men and women, humans and machines, the constructed world and the natural environment, are all put into play in his “fictions.” He begins with ideas and uses familiar objects to express them. According to Colville, “My paintings begin as imaginary drawings, and then at a later point in their development, I make some drawings from life, from reality. It’s interesting that the original conception of one of my paintings, or my prints, always emerges out of my head, rather than from something specifically seen. It’s a sort of conglomeration of experience and observation.”
Ray Cronin, Alex Colville: Life & Work, Art Canada Institute, 2017